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What Sport Tells Us About Life Paperback – 29 Jan 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 26 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (29 Jan. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141031859
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141031859
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (26 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 58,016 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product description

Review

Recommended to anyone interested in sport, history, or simply human nature (Mark Lawson, Front Row)

I could eat this stuff up with a spoon (Nick Hornby)

A book that everyone with a serious interest in sport needs to read. Don't miss it (Simon Barnes The Times)

A terrific book - Smith has distilled into 200 pages things that took me fifteen years of playing to work out (Mike Atherton)

An exceptional book: lucid, thought-provoking, informative and fair. Outstanding (Christopher Martin-Jenkins The Times)

About the Author

Ed Smith read History at Peterhouse, Cambridge. Having played for Kent and England, he is now Captain of Middlesex County Cricket Club.

He has published two highly acclaimed books: Playing Hard Ball, a comparison of baseball and cricket, and On and Off the Field, which was named Wisden Book of the Year, 2004. He writes for many publications including The Times and Sunday Telegraph.


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I've not been interested in writing a book review before, but having read Ed Smith's book since hearing his interview on BBC radio last Saturday, I want to record my impressions.
Its more than a sport book, you don't need to be interested in sport.
Its not a psychology book, but it helps you to think about how others think.
Its not a business book, but helps you to reflect how people work together or as individuals.
It might even not be a book; it seems a series of essays. You can read at a breathless pace desperate to find out what Smith thinks of Zidane, or you can read and linger on fabulous prose.
I smiled wryly on many occasions, when Smith clarified for me, many of those debates I've had and heard over the decades, my self-reflection being "yes of course" and "why couldn't I see that".
I could write more, but I'm going to read it again, I'm sure I'll read it differently this time.
Delightful yes. Highly recommended yes.
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Format: Paperback
During my year out in Paris I remember being fascinated by a french friend telling me about the symbolism in the 'Jungle Book'; the different characters representing the balance of power between the 'great nations' in 1901.
Ed Smith's book brought back memories of those intellectual discussions about topics that previously I thought were trivial or for children.
Sadly, sports coverage is too often at the level of 'Hello' magazine or tabloid journalism; a re-iteration of 'what' took place on the pitch (or off it) and not 'why' they happened. 'What sport tells us about life' contains that 'value add' and in so doing not only helps you enjoy what you are watching more, but also apply lessons learnt to other aspects of life.
I'm just about to talk to a senior manager (who loves F1) about why our project managers should be less like 'Ayrton Senna'...
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Format: Hardcover
...but thoughtful and interesting ones, nonetheless.

Although the book is called "What Sport Tells Us About Life", it might, equally, have been called "What Life Tells Us About Sport", since Smith takes philosophy, sociology, history, statistics, political science, economics, psychology and more besides and uses them to analyse sporting situations. Or, to look at it another way, he uses sporting situations to illustrate "real world" concepts.

So, although this will be classed as a "sports book", one doesn't need to be a sportsman to enjoy it and it would sit better with the popular non-fiction books. Several examples in the book are taken from baseball and basketball - sports about which I know little - and they are as interesting and enjoyable as the rest of the book.

Smith is clearly a very intelligent man and there are times when he achieves moments of real insight into situations. Umpires Darrel Hair and Billy Doctrove infamously docked Pakistan 5 runs for ball-tampering during their test match at the Oval in 2006, leading to Pakistan refusing to continue with the game. Smith brilliantly sums this up as the umpires thinking they were giving a speeding ticket whilst the Pakistan team felt they'd been accused of drunk-driving.

The writing style is very easy to follow, lively and witty, making the book all the more enjoyable to read. Intentionally or not, Smith also reveals quite a lot about himself.
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Format: Paperback
Imagine if a sequel was written to Freakonomics - a book which attempts to understand and explicate all sorts of things in society by applying economic principles to them - by a well-educated, well-read, erudite former English Crickter-turned journalist and instead of applying economic principles the author seeks to apply lessons from the world of sport instead. Well, if you can imagine that then you have a pretty good idea of the premise of this book.

'Sport is a condensed version of life - only it matters less and comes up with better statistics. Consequently, in this book, I place sport in the widest possible context in order to learn more about the game of real life.'

The premise is an interesting one and the book is an excellent read but it is far from perfect:- (1) It is only 183 pages long. (2) It is really a collection of short essays rather than one coherant book. (3)a) The first half of the book is much better than the second half. (b) A couple of the chapters towards the back of the book end with trite banalities rather than real insight.

Notwithstanding the criticisms that can legitimately be levelled against the book I would still recommend this book to any sports fan, it is well-written, frequently insightful and whilst short it is broad in scope and ambition.
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Being both an intelligent bloke and having been within touching distance of the highest reaches of international cricket, Ed Smith is an ideal author of a book that attempts to draw links between sport and "everything else". If you've ever wasted time playing or watching sport, you will find something in this set of essays.
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